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Remember, when most of the news is, “all coronavirus, all the time,” much more of consequence is still going on. In addition to bringing you virus news, we’ve been trying to call attention to the stories that, without COVID-19 sucking all the air out of the room, would rightly be front and center. And there’s a stunning story that broke last night about British ex-spy and creative anti-Trump fiction writer Christopher Steele.

Chuck Ross of THE DAILY CALLER NEWS FOUNDATION has obtained the transcript to a deposition from March 17-18 by Christopher Steele for a defamation case in Britain related to the “dossier.” This was a suit brought against Steele by the owners of Alfa Bank –- Petre Aven, German Khan, and Mikhail Fridman –- over a memo in the “dossier” that claimed they had made payments to Vladimir Putin. Their lawyer, Hugh Tomlinson, was challenging Steele on the accuracy of that memo, and also his relationship with his “primary sub-source” for the information.

Since the IG report contains a rebuttal from Steele’s lawyers that mentions recordings and documents “meticulously” backing up his information, Tomlinson asked Steele about their existence. Conveniently, they do NOT exist; it’s impossible now to say how “meticulous” they were. And the source himself has testified to the FBI that Steele exaggerated and/or misrepresented what he had said, which was only “rumor and speculation.” Here’s how the questioning of Steele by Alfa Bank’s lawyers went:

Q: (Tomlinson) The “Primary Sub-Source’s” debriefings by Orbis [Steele’s company] were meticulously documented and recorded.

A: (Steele) At the time.

Q: But none of these documents exist, so they have all been destroyed.

A: At the time, Mr. Tomlinson, when we wrote the report.

Q: But you say it was meticulous, but no one is in a position to check that because the records don’t exist.

A: They no longer exist, but that is my assertion, indeed, my assertion under oath.

Further questioning revealed that Steele retained no contemporaneous emails or notes except for those with the FBI. He had used a personal email account for everything related to the Fusion GPS project, and those records were deleted.

And, specifically, the notes for “Report 112,” the memo on Alfa Bank, were not kept.

Q: You have no record of anything, have you?

A: I haven’t got any records relating to the creation of 112.

Q: Or indeed, any of the other memoranda?

A: No, THEY WERE WIPED IN EARLY JANUARY 2017. [Emphasis mine.]

It's true: communications with Fusion GPS on his company’s computer network were wiped on January 5, 2017. A Hushmail account he’d used in late December 2016 was also wiped. And no, I don’t mean, like “with a cloth.”

It was five days later that BUZZFEED published the “dossier.”

As Chuck Ross reports, Steele’s source allegedly used a number of contacts inside and outside of Russia to gather tips about Donald Trump, his associates, and Kremlin officials. Steele said the Trump campaign took part in a “well-coordinated conspiracy of cooperation” with the Russians to influence the 2016 election. After almost two years of investigating, the special counsel found no evidence of such a conspiracy, and newly declassified footnotes from IG Horowitz’ report shows that the FBI was well aware that Steele might have been receiving Russian disinformation.

Specifically, they suspected the stories regarding Michael Cohen’s trip to Prague and Trump’s antics with hookers at a Moscow hotel were false. (And, indeed, they were.)

But that didn’t stop them from using these stories and the rest of the unverified garbage in Steele’s “dossier.” They swore the information was VERIFIED when they applied to the FISA Court for a warrant to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

Even during the Alfa Bank testimony, Steele would not reveal the name of his primary source. Whoever it was, they had done business with Orbis for “several years.” Steele said his sources got paid retainers of $3,000 to $5,000 a month. Nice work, a little extra money for making up stuff.

And now, all the records of any of this appear to be gone.

Ross’s report doesn’t go into this, but I assume Alfa Bank’s defamation lawsuit might also relate to the completely debunked story about computer “pings” emanating from their bank tower to signal between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Yes, there were lots of anti-Trumpers who thoroughly bought into this ridiculous story, with no evidence at all.

For context, here’s Ross’s report from December of last year on the rebuttal by Steele’s attorneys of the IG report. It’s kind of funny in light of what we’ve just learned to read that “the lawyers did not say what, if anything, Steele plans to do with the recordings of the source.” The humor derives from the fact that STEELE HAD ALREADY GOTTEN RID OF THEM, all the way back in January of 2017. Pretty good joke, except that the joke was on all of us. I hope Alfa Bank cleans up big on this lawsuit. But, hey, where does President Trump go to sue?

Incidentally, remember when I recently asserted that not only did the Russians NOT want to help Trump, but they wanted to help Hillary win (not just “create chaos,” as we always hear)? Well, David Krayden, also of the DAILY CALLER NEWS FOUNDATION, has just written about that very thing.

As you likely know, the report submitted Tuesday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence supports the U.S. intel community’s assessment, back in January of 2017, that Russia “meddled” in the 2016 election to help Trump win. This conclusion seems extremely illogical, considering that the particular stories the FBI suspected were Russian misinformation –- the Michael Cohen trip to Prague and the prostitutes in the Moscow hotel –- were extremely damaging to Trump.

As Krayden notes, the committee released the document in a highly edited form that does not include any reference to the recently declassified files that point to a Russian disinformation campaign.

Former CIA officer and National Security Council Chief of Staff Fred Fleitz wrote an op-ed for FOX NEWS that addresses the flaws in this report, pointing out that its findings directly contradict those of the House Intelligence Committee from March 2018. Given all that we know, I would agree with Fleitz and go with the House findings that the intel community’s findings were tainted by anti-Trump forces. Most notable among the problems with the Senate report cited by Fleitz is its over-reliance on the potentially politically-charged observations of the CIA.

Fleitz calls former CIA Director John Brennan “the most politicized intelligence chief in American history.” He says that Brennan relied on “low-quality intelligence that failed to meet intelligence community standards [the Steele dossier?] to support the claim that Russian officials wanted Trump to win...” and “suppressed high-quality intelligence suggesting that Putin actually wanted the more predictable and malleable Clinton to win the 2016 election.”

Thank you! As I’ve said, this is the only conclusion that makes sense.

So, why did the Senate committee come to the opposite conclusion as the House and endorse John Brennan’s narrative that the Russians wanted to help Trump win? Fleitz speculates about that in his superb op-ed, a must-read. He says that the vice chairman, Democrat Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, essentially ran the show. Well, that would explain a lot.

One relative upside of the pandemic shutdown is that it has made a lot of people who like to wrap themselves in the mantle of “compassionate liberals” show their true colors. For instance, we’ve seen some truly wretched comments, ranging from anonymous Twitter trolls wishing death on the President and his supporters to clueless, bubble-dwelling celebrities and politicians mocking people who are desperate to get back to work so they don’t lose their homes and businesses and so they can pay their bills and feed their families.

We’ve also seen in stark terms the ugly selfishness of the left's “never let a good crisis go to waste” mentality, as Nancy Pelosi held up desperately-needed aid to small businesses to try to extort her “progressive” wish list into the bill. She’s now boasting that if we need another bill to keep the economy alive, she will force a national vote-by-mail law into it, creating a tsunami of vote fraud that will keep Democrats in power forever.

Another way that opportunistic leftists have tried to use this crisis to impose their agenda on America was by making it more lucrative to stay unemployed than to go back to work. They insisted that this wouldn’t incentivize unemployment. But it already is…

Some analysts say the lucrative unemployment benefits are a stealth way of forcing small businesses to raise wages without having to pass a new national minimum wage law. If so, then it’s a stealth way to put small businesses out of business nationwide, just as they have in cities and states that raised the minimum wage above market rates. Small businesses are drowning, and the Democrats want to throw them an anvil.

To sum up, Americans have gotten a good, hard look at what life under “Democratic socialism” and the Green New Deal would look like, as some prominent leftist politicians have celebrated the blows to the fossil fuel industry, all the lost jobs in industries they don’t like, and the expansion of dependence and government power, with people being ordered to stay inside, not drive, live off handouts, etc. If you like the current despair, impoverishment, lack of freedom and official disregard for constitutional rights, elect more AOCs and they’ll make it permanent.

The “Party of Tolerance” is giving African-Americans a good look at how savagely intolerant they really are toward anyone who expresses a non-approved thought. If the Republican Party ever treated its black members with such harsh disrespect, the charges of racism would be headline news. And there are two glaring examples that have arrived simultaneously.

First came the story of Democratic Michigan State Rep. Karen Whitsett, who thought she was going to die of COVID-19 until she received the treatment mentioned by President Trump. She quickly recovered and publicly thanked him, saying the drug saved her life. For that, a group called the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party Organization announced that it will meet tomorrow to consider censuring Whitsett.

Now, think for just a moment of all the outrageous things various Democrats (cough-Adam Schiff!-cough!) have done for which they were never censured – but they want to censure her for saying something positive about Trump for recommending a drug that she believed saved her life.

Trump drew attention to that “disgraceful” move and offered a great suggestion to Whitsett: “Should join the Republican Party!”

Meanwhile, Georgia State Rep. Vernon Jones has had a change of heart. The black Democrat set off a firestorm by saying he endorsed Trump’s reelection because of his record on job creation and supporting black colleges and prison sentence reform. He and his family were hit with so many hateful, threatening messages that he announced he would step down. But he now says that after receiving a wave of support, he’s changed his mind and will remain in office. Having already compared the Party to a plantation, Jones declared, “I will not allow the Democrats to bully me into submission. I will not let them win. I will NOT resign.”

Good for him! That’s the “punch back twice as hard” philosophy that Obama originated, but that Democrats never imagined would be used against them until Trump came along.

Former President Barack Obama broke the tradition of Presidents not attacking their successors (especially during a national emergency) by criticizing President Trump’s response to the coronavirus. At this link, Matt Margolis of PJ Media reminds us of why Obama has no room to talk, having botched the response to two pandemics during his term, Ebola and H1N1 (swine flu.)

Speaking of violating long-established protocols, Bob Ehrlich has a good piece at Western Journal about six ways in which Donald Trump has changed old rules that everyone used to follow.

It’s an interesting read, but to put in my two cents: I’m constantly hearing about how Trump has upended all the agreed-upon rules and previously-revered niceties of politics, media relations, diplomacy, etc. In some ways, he has (usually by telling us what he honestly thinks, which ironically gets him branded as a “liar” by people who think he should have been honest enough to keep telling the same lies they’ve all agreed to mouth for years.) But the charge that Trump is responsible for inventing personal attacks on opponents and “lowering the tone of political discourse” is laughable. And I ought to know.

If you recall, I stood on the debate stage with Trump, competing with him for the nomination at a time when he was being assailed for giving mocking nicknames to his opponents. Do you know what he called me? “Governor Huckabee,” or “Mike.” Do you know why? Because I said I knew that Hillary Clinton would be far worse for America than any Republican, so I was going to observe Reagan’s 11th Commandment and not attack my fellow Republicans. I didn’t call Trump names, and he didn’t call me names. Imagine that!

In virtually every case where Trump has been accused of attacking people, breaking the rules and “lowering the tone,” he was attacked first. He was called a phony, a con man, a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe, a liar, a crook and someone who was only running to enrich himself, surely the most hilarious of all the false charges. And a media that had just spent eight years giving Obama shoeshines with their tongues declared themselves to be open advocates for Hillary and threw any pretense of journalistic standards out the window as they attacked Trump like a pack of baying hounds.

But he didn’t do what Republicans are supposed to do when they’re unfairly maligned, which is to roll over and apologize for their shortcomings. No, he punched back. And for that unforgivable act of self-defense, he’s the one who’s blamed for “lowering the tone of public discourse.” Maybe he should point out that he’s just following the Obama principle of “if they hit you, punch back twice as hard.” Or would it be uncouth to remind the Democrats and the media (pardon my redundancy) that he’s not the first President to disregard the niceties of polite discourse when attacked?

Must-read for April 24

April 24, 2020

The most important MUST-READ article of the day is by Dr. Scott W. Atlas, former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center. It’s titled, “The Data is In; Stop the Panic and End the Total Isolation.”

Dr. Atlas lists five facts that all point to the need to end the economic lockdown while continuing to proceed with reasonable caution. These facts, which he explains in much more detail, are:

The overwhelming majority of people have little risk of dying from COVID-19 (those over 75 are at greatest risk; the current death rate for those 18 and under is zero)…Protecting older, high-risk people eliminates hospital overcrowding…Our total isolation policy is prolonging the problem by preventing the development of “herd immunity”…People are dying because hypothetical projections of the need for care for COVID-19 patients caused states to cancel other medical procedures, from cancer screenings and biopsies to chemotherapy and brain surgeries…We now have a clearly-defined at-risk population that can be protected with targeted measures, so we don’t have to shut down the entire country.

This isn’t to say that we can immediately go back to life as it was two months ago. We’ll still need to follow reasonable precautions. Even if you’re not at greatest risk, why take unnecessary chances? But we now know a lot more about how dangerous the disease is, and about how damaging the response has been. We now have to consider whether the cure is on the verge of becoming worse than the disease.

Here are a couple of stories from this week that should make readers question the conventional wisdom that we hear every day from the media.

First, I don’t usually link to Slate.com because it’s slanted so much to the left, so you know it must be an exceptional piece if I do. Henry Grabar took a close look at the coronavirus stats for New York City and found that all the reasons we’ve heard for why it was so bad there don’t hold up to scrutiny. For instance, population density and levels of subway ridership had no correlation to neighborhood infection rates. San Francisco has more restaurants per capita and far fewer virus cases. Other cities are just as crowded and rely just as much on mass transit but weren’t hit as hard, while some smaller, less crowded towns were hit just as hard. His conclusion: New York’s leaders simply waited too long to impose social distancing guidelines. Two weeks earlier might have reduced the death rate by 80 percent.

And as we listen to the arguments over when to reopen the economy, with some people chomping at the bit to get back to work and others arguing that we must all stay behind closed doors for at least 18 months, here’s a bucket of cold reality.

It’s a Twitter thread reminding us that the shutdown and social distancing were never meant to prevent us all from ever getting sick. It was to flatten the curve of infections, so the medical system wouldn’t be overwhelmed with cases before we were prepared for them. No matter when we emerge from our cocoons, and no matter who is President, there is no way to prevent a virus from spreading. The common cold is a virus, and we’ve been trying to get rid of it for centuries with no success.

The fact is that no matter when we restart the economy or how careful we are, the virus is going to spread. Some people will get it and never get sick, some will have milder cases, some will get very sick and (hopefully) we’ll be better prepared to help them, and tragically, some will die. All this self-quarantining was never going to reduce the number of cases in the long run, it was just meant to slow down the spread to make it easier to deal with. And it was also never meant to be an excuse for certain politicians to impose their crazy agendas or trample people’s Constitutional rights.

Nor was it meant to be an excuse for social media giants like Facebook to start acting like the Russian secret police and declaring people who protest the government to be “spreading misinformation” and silencing them.

This canard is based on a rationale similar to the slander of the Tea Party movement, that it wasn’t an “organic” public uprising, but just some astroturfed theater created by rightwing manipulators. I saw the Tea Party movement up close, and even wrote a book (“God, Guns, Grits and Gravy”) about the growing anger and frustration in “flyover country” at out-of-touch political and media elites. That was quite genuine, as the election of Donald Trump proved. And the fury over politicians who are trying to use the current health crisis to impose irrational and draconian restrictions on people’s rights is also quite genuine. (Here's the latest, and brace yourself for this one).

Note to Mark Zuckerberg: “Misinformation” doesn’t mean “states an opinion leftists don’t want to hear.” As a reminder, there are other social media outlets aside from the big names that do not censor political speech. My Twitter tweets are echoed on one, Parler.com. You should check it out, you might be needing it soon.

The New York Post tried to link a protest of the lockdown to a surge in coronavirus deaths, when the surge was reported on the same day the protest took place. That’s one fast virus!

A number of media outlets ran photos allegedly showing crowds on a newly-reopened beach in Jacksonville, Florida, violating social distancing guidelines. But it turned out that the photos looked like crowds from some angles, but from others, you could tell they were actually small groups, likely families who quarantine together, staying at least six feet away from other people. It’s called “perspective,” which a lot of people obviously don’t have.

Finally, New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante tried to blame the death of a New York man on Fox News because he allegedly contracted the virus on a cruise he took after watching Sean Hannity downplay the seriousness of the disease. Problem: the Hannity quote she cites was from March 9th, long after the man left on the cruise. However, before he left on the cruise, back on February 27th, he might have seen this tweet from another media figure: “I fundamentally don’t understand the panic. Virus is not deadly in vast majority of cases.” That was a quote from…take a wild guess?...New York Times reporter Ginia Bellafante.

Biggest news of the day

April 24, 2020

The biggest real news of the day involving the COVID-19 (Chinese) coronavirus is that it might not be as deadly as we were led to believe when we shut down the economy based on computer models that predicted millions of deaths, and have since been adjusted steadily downward. There’s always a temptation when dealing with a disease scare to look back with 20/20 hindsight and say, “It wasn’t that bad! We didn’t need to take all those precautions!” when it’s possible that if we hadn’t taken the precautions, it might’ve been much worse. It was certainly necessary to take drastic action upfront to “flatten the curve” and keep the disease from spreading and overwhelming the medical system.

But we’ve done that. While we don’t want a second wave to bring it roaring back, we can’t keep the economy shut down forever. Due to the shutdown, another 4.4 million Americans just applied for unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 26 million. Indeed, there are estimates that keeping it shut much longer will lead to so much despair, depression, drug abuse and suicide that more people will die than would have died of the virus.

We were also told that we needed to take drastic measures until we knew more about the threat. Well, now we know more, and some of it is good news, but the people lobbying to keep the economy shut down don’t want to hear it.

For instance, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who not that long ago was worried about millions of deaths and a shortage of ventilators and hospital beds (none of which came to pass) announced that a test of 3,000 people across 19 New York counties found that 13.9% of them had coronavirus antibodies. Extrapolated to the entire state population, that would be 2.7 million people who contracted the virus but had no symptoms or sickness too mild to go to the hospital. That would mean the death rate per infection isn’t 6%, as previously stated, but 0.5%. We still don’t know if antibodies provide long-lasting immunity, but it is proof that many people can catch the virus and not even get sick enough to need a doctor.

We also now know that 94% of coronavirus patients who were hospitalized in New York City had another underlying condition, and 88% had two or more. The most common was hypertension, followed by obesity, diabetes, morbid obesity, and coronary artery disease.

But the most important MUST-READ article of the day is by Dr. Scott W. Atlas, former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center. It’s titled, “The Data is In; Stop the Panic and End the Total Isolation.”

Dr. Atlas lists five facts that all point to the need to end the economic lockdown while continuing to proceed with reasonable caution. These facts, which he explains in much more detail, are:

The overwhelming majority of people have little risk of dying from COVID-19 (those over 75 are at greatest risk; the current death rate for those 18 and under is zero)…Protecting older, high-risk people eliminates hospital overcrowding…Our total isolation policy is prolonging the problem by preventing the development of “herd immunity”…People are dying because hypothetical projections of the need for care for COVID-19 patients caused states to cancel other medical procedures, from cancer screenings and biopsies to chemotherapy and brain surgeries…We now have a clearly-defined at-risk population who can be protected with targeted measures, so we don’t have to shut down the entire country.

This isn’t to say that we can immediately go back to life as it was two months ago. We’ll still need to follow reasonable precautions. Even if you’re not at greatest risk, why take unnecessary chances? But we now know a lot more about how dangerous the disease is, and about how damaging the response has been. We now have to consider whether the cure is on the verge of becoming worse than the disease.

In Harris County, Texas (Houston), Democrat Judge Lina Hidalgo ordered the county’s 4.7 million residents to wear face masks in public at all times with very limited exceptions, or face a fine of up to $1,000, a ruling that Houston’s Democratic mayor agreed with. But Republicans, many residents and the Houston Police Officers Union definitely did not agree. Critics say that encouraging and urging mask use is fine, threatening to arrest and fine people for not doing it crosses the line into unconstitutional tyranny.

In fact, the police union flatly refused to enforce it, saying that while they believe everyone should be wearing a mask in public, “we draw the line at the draconian measures Hidalgo has decided to engage in. Our officers work every single day to bridge the gap with our community and earn their trust, we will not stand idly by and allow Hidalgo to tear that bridge down, with her horrific leadership and echo chamber decision making.”

As the story above details, other police and sheriff’s departments around the country are also refusing to enforce draconian, contradictory (landscapers are allowed to work outside, building contractors aren’t, etc.) and most of all, unconstitutional edicts by judges. You know you’ve overreached your powers when even the cops are telling you to put your legal threats where the sun doesn’t shine.

To show how seriously locals are taking Judge Hidalgo’s commands, a hilarious typo in a graphic from KPRC-TV went viral nationally. It read that the Judge ordered everyone over the age of 10 to cover their faces with either masks, scarfs or “bananas.

As a public service, and since so many judges are now issuing rulings that are so bananas they sound like a Monty Python sketch, here’s what to do if you are attacked by a masked person with a banana.